Progressives Hope ‘Rural New Deal’ Will Address Economic Issues and Appeal to Voters

Progressives Hope ‘Rural New Deal’ Will Address Economic Issues and Appeal to Voters

Progressives Hope ‘Rural New Deal’ Will Address Economic Issues and Appeal to Voters
Photo courtesy Rural New Deal

Progressive Democrats of America and Rural Urban Bridge Initiative have co-authored a policy paper laying out a set of strategies to revitalize the economy in rural areas through “federal investment in bottom-up solutions.

With input from rural leaders and advocates, the Rural New Deal brings together economic policies that are popular with progressives and tailors them to suit the needs of rural communities.

Democrats have a chance at winning in 2024 if they work to rebuild trust with rural voters, Anthony Flaccavento, director of Rural Urban Bridge Initiative (RUBI), told the Daily Yonder.

“The federal government is proposing this policy template, but every element needs to be organized such that it’s sensitive to the specifics of the regions, that the programs are being applied and that there is local input into how they actually operate at the local level,” Flaccavento said.

The Rural New Deal is made up of 10 overarching economic policy goals, or pillars. These include items such as breaking up corporate monopolies and ensuring livable wages, among others. Each pillar comes with a set of actions that either the federal government or other rural community leaders can take. These range from providing subsidies to small businesses to expanding road and rail infrastructure.

Additionally, the Rural New Deal focuses on other policy areas like sustainable food production, broadband expansion, affordable housing, public education, and healthcare. It calls for measures such as Medicaid and Medicare expansion, investments in vocational training, and free community college.

The release of the policy document comes at a time when the Democratic Party is becoming less competitive in national races, according to Jeff Bloodworth, a professor of political history at Gannon University in Pennsylvania who studies rural elections.

He said the Democrats have increasingly focused their electoral strategy on urban areas since the 1960s, while gradually devoting less attention to rural voters. They performed especially poorly in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, losing the rural vote to Republicans by more than 20 percentage points in both.

Progressive candidates like Pennsylvania U.S. Senator John Fetterman and former Maine State Senator Chloe Maxmin won their seats after years of organizing in their states’ rural communities. But Democrats as a whole often don’t run candidates in rural areas, especially at the state and local level, Bloodworth said.

“Half the state legislative seats in Mississippi, the Democrats don’t even run a candidate,” Bloodworth said. “And Mississippi’s not an outlier. Democrats were competitive and controlled the state legislature in Mississippi well into the ’90s they just quit trying. They don’t show up anymore.”

Alan Minsky, the director of Progressive Democrats of America, and Flaccavento view the Rural New Deal as an important step in building a relationship between progressive candidates and rural communities, both during and beyond elections. But they both see potential issues with its implementation. They anticipate Republican opposition to the Rural New Deal’s calls for increased government investment or decreased privatization, as well as lingering biases against rural voters from Democratic politicians and pundits.

Urban progressives have assumptions about how rural Americans vote: that they all vote Republican, that they vote against their own interests, or that they simply don’t care about the same things urban progressives care about. Flaccavento said these assumptions can lead Democrats to dismiss the issues that rural Americans face. Republicans, by contrast, are more likely to try to appeal to rural voters, Minsky said.

“The Republican Party has consistently presented itself as the ally of business and therefore it fits in with this notion of being the party that advocates for pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, do hard work, etc,” he said.

Though Republicans have consistently outperformed Democrats among rural voters in recent elections, rural voters themselves – especially young rural voters – have expressed dissatisfaction with how both parties handle economic issues. Minsky, who remembers Ronald Reagan’s elections in 1980 and 1984, saw how unpopular his administration’s economic policies were among rural workers, policies that are still part of the Republican Party’s platform.

“He really initiated an era of economic policy of not securing and supporting independent businesses and family farmers and allowing the process of corporate monopolization to begin. And then sadly, when you get the Democratic administration coming in ’92, they in no way reverse that,” he said. “In fact, they again acquiesced to the policies for the most part.”

Republicans’ use of “culture war” strategies has also produced mixed results in capturing rural support. In Ohio, a 2013 state constitutional amendment that would have restricted abortion rights failed to attract as much support in rural areas as candidate Donald Trump did in 2020. Similarly, rural Wisconsin voters shifted 5 points to the left in the 2023 election of pro-choice progressive, Janet Protasiewicz, to the state Supreme Court this past April, compared to senatorial and presidential elections.

Flaccavento said that voters’ responses to these strategies are complex and often informed by their material conditions.

“Culture war issues are way more effective in dividing us in large part because people feel abandoned economically,” Flaccavento said. “As Democrats begin to really prioritize the needs of everyday people across geography, but especially in rural, … then it’s much more likely that those other issues will be like, ‘Well, we don’t agree, but that’s OK.’”

Bloodworth added that urban progressives need to understand the nuances of rural political attitudes if they want to get support for policies like the Rural New Deal.

“We should not assume that people in rural America are naturally more conservative…Their liberalism, where they are liberals, has a different sensibility,” Bloodworth said.

This article first appeared on The Daily Yonder and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Mendocino County announces one year building permit amnesty starting Nov. 1

Mississippi Today joins national collaboration focusing on rural workforce development

Mississippi Today joins four U.S. newsrooms in exploring changes in rural workforce development as part of an editorial collaboration from the Institute for Nonprofit News’ Rural News Network (RNN).

As one of 75 newsrooms reporting on rural issues in 47 states, Mississippi Today is part of a national initiative to uncover the most critical needs in these communities. Collaborative reporting reaches more people to make meaningful change possible.

“We are delighted to have Mississippi Today join this reporting project to share how Mississippians can bridge gaps in the work-to-jobs pipeline for rural communities,” said Alana Rocha, Rural News Network editor. “This crucial reporting will be shared across the country to surface solutions for other communities fighting for a better future for rural workers.”

For the next six months, Mississippi Today will work with Cardinal News in Virginia, KOSU in Oklahoma, Shasta Scout in Northern California and The Texas Tribune in covering the issue for regional, statewide and national audiences. The journalists will explore how changing demographics, politics and economic needs are reshaping rural workforce development programs.

Mississippi Today’s higher education reporter Molly Minta will focus her reporting on one Mississippi Delta county, Issaquena, where less than 1% of adult residents have a bachelor’s degree, the lowest in Mississippi and the second lowest in the nation. Her research is showing that nearly a quarter of adults aged 25 or older in this sparsely populated county on the edge of the Mississippi River have attempted college but didn’t graduate. Her project will look at the barriers to higher education there but also focus on efforts underway to increase the county’s college-going rate.

“Working with this collaborative has enabled us to see how some of the same issues affecting Mississippi’s Issaquena County are at play in other parts of the country and to see how other communities are attempting to tackle the problem,” said Debbie Skipper, Mississippi Today’s Justice Team and Special Projects Editor. “We are also gaining insight and advice from the leadership at the Rural News Network as we move forward in the reporting and editing process.”

This series is made possible with support from the Walton Family Foundation. Financial supporters have zero say in the editorial process.

The first round of the series publishes in early December, with follow-up stories set for early 2024.

The post Mississippi Today joins national collaboration focusing on rural workforce development appeared first on Mississippi Today.

Per Asper Ad Astra – Rural Southwest Is Slowly Becoming a Destination for Commercial Spacetravel

 On the morning of August 10th, 2023, residents of Elephant Butte, New Mexico (population 1,427), stood in their yards, eyes trained on the sky. They were rewarded with the sights—and sounds—of a spaceplane being launched into sub-orbital space.

“We could hear the rocket ignite—it was right overhead—and you could see the contrail, at first going horizontally and then straight up in the air,” said Kim Skinner, mayor pro tempore of Elephant Butte, in an interview with the Daily Yonder.

The launch was Virgin Galactic’s second commercial flight, known as ‘Galactic 02’, which carried three private passengers as well as the flight crew 55 miles above the earth to the boundaries of space.

Visitors pose for photos outside of Spaceport America. More than 2,500 visitors toured Spaceport America last year. (Photo by Anya Petrone Slepyan)

Galactic 02 launched from Spaceport America, “the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport” according to its website. Located on 18,000 acres of land adjacent to the White Sands Missile Range, the Spaceport is 26 miles from the city of Truth or Consequences (population 6,062), the county seat of Sierra County, and around 25 miles from Elephant Butte.

Low population density is one of the prerequisites for a usable, operational launch site, according to Charles Hurley, the public information officer for Spaceport America. Jeff Bezos’ space tourism company Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX also have launch sites at similarly remote locations.

Following the success of two flights in the summer of 2023, Virgin Galactic announced a schedule of regular monthly commercial spaceflights launching from Spaceport America.

For residents of Sierra County, this announcement fulfills a promise decades in the making, said Bruce Swingle, former city manager of Truth or Consequences, and former county manager for Sierra County.

“I think [the launch] was really a turning point for the community,” Swingle told the Daily Yonder.

The New Mexico state legislature began contemplating plans for a commercial spaceport in the 1980s, though the proposal was not funded until 2005. The $212 million project was paid for primarily by the taxpayers of Sierra County, where the Spaceport is located, and neighboring Doña Ana County. Both counties continue to pay a gross receipts tax to fund the Spaceport, a quarter of which is dedicated to local science, technology, engineering, and math education.

At its core, the Spaceport was “designed to spur economic development,” said Spaceport America Executive Director Scott McLaughlin in a press release.

A new report by the Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University shows that the project has been effective. In 2022, Spaceport America generated nearly $63 million of economic impact in Sierra County, and over $58 million in Doña Ana County. This includes the creation of hundreds of jobs, construction at the spaceport, and tourism.

Last year, over 2,500 visitors toured the Spaceport through Final Frontier Tours, the official tour operator and merchandiser for the Spaceport. The annual Spaceport America Cup, which is an international rocket-building competition for college students, also brings thousands of visitors each year, according to Hurley. And as Virgin Galactic gears up its operations, a steady stream of space tourists and their entourages are expected to flock to New Mexico.

A tour group looks out at the Spaceport grounds. The FAA-licensed launch complex sits on 18,000 acres of land. (Photo by Anya Petrone Slepyan)

“We’re receiving much more money in return than what we’re paying in gross receipts tax to the Spaceport,” said Swingle. “And in the long term, the Spaceport will continue to grow. I think that what we’re at the Spaceport today is negligible compared to what it’s going to look like in the foreseeable future.”

Much-Needed Economic Boost

This growing source of economic development is welcome in Sierra County, which is one of the poorest in New Mexico. Over a quarter of its residents are living in poverty, according to the US Census Bureau.

And while Virgin Galactic reaches for the stars, Sierra County struggles to provide critical services on the ground. Truth or Consequences, the largest city in the county, has had to temporarily shut down schools and businesses on multiple occasions due to a failing water system that leaks over 40% of the desert town’s potable water into the ground.

For the past decade, tickets for a Virgin Galactic spaceflight cost between $200,000-250,000. Now, tickets go for $450,000 apiece. Space tourists in search of a luxury experience in Sierra County can stay at the Armendaris Ranch, owned by media mogul Ted Turner, for $3500 a night, before taxes and fees.

The irony of this is not lost on Kim Skinner, mayor pro tempore of Elephant Butte. “We have all sorts of things going in Sierra County, from water pipes so broken that you lose 43% of the water pumped, to high-end places like the Armenadaris where you can stay for nearly $4,000 a night,” she said. “It’s from one extreme to the other.”

Though there is also a range of less exclusive options in Truth or Consequences, many tourists end up opting for Las Cruces’ Encanto Hotel, which partners with the Spaceport.

According to the economic impact study, the Spaceport generated over 9,000 visitor-days (days visitors spent in the area) in 2022. But 75% of those visitor-days were spent in Doña Ana County, which is home to Las Cruces, New Mexico’s second-largest city.

“Tourists want to go where the money is, and that’s Las Cruces,” said Susan Curry, the office manager for the Sierra County Chamber of Commerce.

Skinner is also the chairperson of the Sierra County Government Recreation and Tourism Board. She said that Sierra County may not be the right destination for everyone, but that they still hope to attract more Spaceport visitors who are interested in the abundant natural resources the county has to offer. And a nearly 20% increase in the county’s annual lodgers tax revenue shows that the strategy is working.

“We don’t have all the shopping; we don’t have all the bells and whistles,” Skinner said. “But if you’re a person who would really like to hike or bike, or RV up in the mountains, this is the place for you.”

Building for the Future

Although Sierra County businesses hope to continue to grow local tourism, other types of economic development stemming from the Spaceport have proven even more fruitful, according to former Sierra County manager Bruce Swingle.

He cites unprecedented private investment in the community, and new public-private partnerships designed to address local problems, from a housing shortage to poor internet connectivity.

“We are catching up with the rest of the world with our infrastructure, our broadband, our utilities, our roads,” Swingle said. “And it’s not just growth, it’s smart growth.”

Swingle hopes these improvements will help the community attract a new generation of professionals, from aerospace workers to hospital staff.

Attracting young people is critical to the future of the community, Skinner said.

“One of the things we’re concerned about is that our kids grow up, go to college, and move away because there are no jobs to keep them here. And you see that in rural communities all over the country,” she said. “So we’re really blessed to have the Spaceport here, doing what it’s trying to do.”

According to Hurley, the Spaceport is just one element of New Mexico’s developing “Space Valley,” stretching from the research complex at Los Alamos down to the aerospace department at the University of Texas at El Paso.  Other important space-related sites include Sandia National Laboratories, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, White Sands Missile Range, and the Air Force Research Laboratory.

As New Mexico grows its space-centered economy, Bruce Swingle is adamant that Sierra County will continue to benefit.

“It’s amazing to see the synergy that is going into our community right now,” Swingle said. “And Spaceport is a part of that, Virgin Galactic and private investment are a part of that. It’s just a really good time to be in Sierra County and watch this happen.”

The post Per Asper Ad Astra – Rural Southwest Is Slowly Becoming a Destination for Commercial Spacetravel appeared first on The Daily Yonder.

Quail populations rising across Oklahoma in time for hunting season

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is looking forward to fall for quail hunting season. Changing weather patterns have impacts on quail populations.

Poultry is booming: Can county’s small farms keep up?

Howard Sanders’ father began poultry farming in the 1980s, shifting away from the family’s previous practice of raising cattle and farming.

Within a few years, they had nine chicken houses on their property in Stephens, and had established one of the most prominent poultry farms in Oglethorpe County.

“There just weren’t that many poultry farms in the county at the time,” Sanders said. “Back in the ’80s, we were probably one of the largest poultry farms in Oglethorpe County.”

Times have changed, however.

Supervisors approve changes to affordable housing rules

Among the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance is the requirement to build affordable units within 10 miles of an incorporated city. Photo by Monserrat Solis.

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 12 unanimously approved changes to the Affordable Housing Regulations proposed by the county’s Planning Commission. The changes included setting an affordable housing threshold and terminating the Housing Advisory Committee.

The county’s Planning Commission had previously approved the changes to the Affordable Housing Regulations, also known as the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, in a public hearing on July 19.

The housing ordinance establishes requirements for future housing developments, aims to set the minimum amount of affordable housing that will be built, and sees that county land is used for housing in accordance with state and local housing needs.

Three amendment changes were approved by the supervisors:

  • Terminating the Housing Advisory Committee
  • A requirement to build affordable units within 10 miles of an incorporated city
  • Updating the 20% requirement for off-site rental units among very low, low and moderate income designations

Stephanie Reck, an associate planner for San Benito County, said the 10-mile requirement would allow residents of new housing developments to effortlessly access city resources and amenities including shopping centers, grocery stores and public transportation.

For example, if an applicant proposes a development project more than 10 miles from an incorporated city in the county, affordable housing must be built outside of the project area, within the 10-mile radius, Reck said. The requirement applies to both housing for sale and for rent, Reck said in an email.

The Planning Commission clarified that the 10-mile radius begins at the city limits and not at the center of the cities.

According to the report by Reck, the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance applies to projects of more than six units.

Projects of six to 10 units are required to pay an in-lieu fee of $30 per square foot for for sale units rather than building affordable housing, according to the county’s inclusionary requirements, Reck said.

The ordinance requires that 20% of all off-site rental units be reserved for very low income, low income and medium income housing.

Affordable housing is based on an area’s median income (AMI), which in San Benito County is $101,923. The income categories vary depending on the size of a household, but the formula for affordability provided by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is as follows:

  • Acutely low income: 0%-15% of AMI
  • Extremely low income: 15%-30% of AMI
  • Very low income: 30% to 50% of AMI
  • Lower income: 50% to 80% of AMI; this designation may also be used to mean 0% to 80% of AMI
  • Moderate income: 80% to 120% of AMI

Given this formula, a household in the county making $122,307 is considered moderate income.

With the changes, very low income and low income units would both comprise 7.5% and moderate income units would comprise 5% of all future approved units.

The 20% requirement meets the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation, and calls for 246 very low income and 198 low income units in the county’s next eight-year plan, Reck said.

The affordable housing plans were previously reviewed by the Housing Advisory Committee, the Planning Commission, then the Board of Supervisors, which was “redundant,” Reck, the told the meeting.

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Hispanic population gains in rural counties spark South Dakota growth

State awards first grants under new rural housing program

The $8.4 million in infrastructure grants go to five local government applicants, the first round of awards through a rural workforce housing initiative.

The Current is an inclusive nonprofit, non-partisan news organization providing in-depth watchdog journalism for Savannah and Coastal Georgia’s communities.

West Maui May Reopen To Tourism On Oct. 8 As Economic Slowdown Predicted

The Hawaii governor also plans to distribute $1,200 to each adult affected by the Lahaina blaze.